OXFORD - More than 300 volunteers opened their hearts and put their hands to work Thursday to honor the life of Mary Beth Malcom and support her family's dream to keep her memory alive.
In the scorching heat, they worked to build Mary Beth's Place, a playground at the Covington Family YMCA's new outdoor center off Stone Road in Oxford. The playground was named for Mary Beth Malcom, the 5-year-old daughter of Ken and Cindi Malcom who died unexpectedly in 2006.
Ken Malcom said he was touched by the large turnout, adding that most of the volunteers were family friends.
"They've been there every step of the way," he said. "They didn't go away. They were there then and they're there today. There are no words to describe the gratitude of my family."
All of the playground's features, including swings, slides, a climbing dome, picnic tables and park benches, were assembled or built on-site.
Volunteers divided into teams to focus on specific projects, with captains wearing funny hats so their team members could spot them in the crowd.
Al Miller, sporting a jester's cap, was in charge of building a wooden arbor that will lead to a butterfly garden. Ken Malcom, a captain with the Covington Police Department, is Miller's supervisor.
"I've known him for a long time, and I wanted to be a part of this," Miller said. "I wanted Ken to know how much I think of him and how much the department thinks of him."
Linda Helderbrand, Rebecca Standard and Rhonda Reeves were part of a team of more than 30 volunteers from C.R. Bard. The women work with a friend of the Malcoms and said Ken Malcom had conducted women's safety classes at Bard. The trio had been helping unload mulch to spread around the playground equipment.
"We were touched by the life of this little girl cut short," Reeves said. "We wanted to do something to give back."
While their parents toiled in the sun, children did their part to help, sitting under white tents and painting stepping stones that will lead to the butterfly garden. They also made thank-you cards for volunteers.
Carson Howard, 7, was Mary Beth's best friend. He said he came "because it gives me a good memory of Mary Beth."
A nonprofit organization called KaBOOM!, which aims to provide a place to play within walking distance of every child in the country, partnered with Home Depot and the YMCA to plan and build the playground. Funds were also raised by the local community.
Young friends of Mary Beth's gave their opinions on the design and color scheme of the playground, and KaBOOM! incorporated their ideas, along with input from the Malcom family, into the final design.
Volunteers finished their work by 1:30 p.m., an hour earlier than planned.
"An unknown author once wrote, 'Remember, there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Each act has a ripple with no logical end,'" Ken Malcom said at the end of the build. "Today, each of you helped to create a ripple in the heart of this 26-acre complex."
Malcom went on to say the ripple will soon transform the grounds into the YMCA outdoor center, which has a master plan that includes four fields for soccer, lacrosse and T-ball; an open-air basketball court; tennis courts and walking trails. The center will provide extra space for the YMCA's sports programs and will be open to the general public for recreation.
Mary Beth's Place will open to the public once parking is available, likely in August, according to YMCA Senior Program Director Louly Hay-Kapp.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.